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Entries in material culture (127)

Tuesday
Apr302013

Victor Gruen: Grayson's, 1939

Victor Gruen and Elise Krummeck, two Grayson's storefronts, circa 1939-40. From Anette Baldauf and Katharina Weingartner's documentary, The Gruen Effect, 2009When the Gruen's left Germany, just before the outbreak of war, they went to New York and did a number of shops (Lederer's, Ciro's) plus eleven branches of Grayson's, a clothing store.  Both of these images contain all sorts of first iterations of something so commonplace that we don't even see them anymore: strange leaps of scale, an ambiguous play of sun, shadow, neon and armature in the signage itself, so that it is never quite the same at any one time, the facade as billboard, the ambiguity about where the sidewalk ends and the store starts – the blurring of boundaries between in and out, private and public: it is all chimerical, but still involved in the serious business of commerce.

How does one make shopping accidental, inadvertent yet habitual, where one drifts into an impulsive purchase rather than marching, money clutched in fist, to buy something very specific?  The blur between cash and credit is anticipated in these storefronts.  Consumption has indeed become inadvertent, the point of purchase is never quite clear.

Sunday
Apr282013

Vancouver Art Gallery

Much dismay that the Vancouver Art Gallery is going to move out of its present location, the classical Rattenbury court house on Georgia Street, and into a new building on the site of the old bus depot on Cambie.  The streets don't mean much to those who don't know Vancouver well, but the bus depot site is at the end of Georgia that is accumulating large cultural edifices: the CBC building, Vancouver Public Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and now the art gallery.  

The QE Theatre — an opera and ballet hall – is in its original 1959 Affleck building, the library moved from its 1957 Burrard Street location and building into the 1995 Safdie coliseum-referenced library on Georgia: Library Square with huge public spaces in and out, often used by the CBC as performance space.  The CBC is in a 1975 Merrick building on Georgia, expanded in 2009 (Dialog and Bakker) to include a 4000 square-foot performance studio and a glassy public face on the street.  The 1958 McCarter Nairne Post Office building, also on Georgia, its future very much in danger, has been discussed as a possible home for the Vancouver Art Gallery: right location, large industrial spaces, although its massive structure would make changes almost prohibitively expensive, plus it was sold in March for $159 million to a developer.

The Vancouver Art Gallery's first building was built in 1931 on a 66'-wide lot (the original CPR survey grid based on chains for residential plots) a couple of blocks away on Georgia from the Hotel Vancouver.  It looked like a bank vault, which says something about the way art was perceived, as a precious commodity meant to be safeguarded.
Vancouver Art Gallery under construction, 1931. Art Deco single storey gallery on a 66' lot in a residential area - 1145 W. Georgia Street. CIty of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Bu P401.1McCarter Naire Architects, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1931The building was given an International Style renovation and expansion in 1950 by Ross Lort: a part plate glass front wall, part slab, all offset planes and classic white gallery space behind.  It had become a small, exceptionally accommodating gallery that under the direction of Doris Shadbolt and Tony Emery, was at the centre of the explosion of art and performance, from N.E. Thing Co to Gathie Falk, in Vancouver in the 1960s and early 1970s. 

Ross Lort, architect. Vancouver Art Gallery, 1950.

Then, in 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery moved to the Erickson-renovated 1911 court house building, made redundant by the 1980 Erickson-designed Law Courts complex and Robson Square which filled the two blocks to the west behind the court house.  It seemed appropriate in the ghastly post-modern 1980s when protests on the Court House steps were over, and museums, opera companies and symphonies turned to block-buster shows for survival, that the VAG be housed in the pomposity of a building shouting out its authority.

Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983-present.

Art goes on no matter what the official gallery is, artists challenge and change; where they do it and where you see it is worthy of attention.  In the 1980s artists were like the punk scene occupying marginal and arcane spaces, they certainly weren't in the main spaces of the new Vancouver Art Gallery in the way that they had fluidly slipped in and out of the old modernist unpretentious gallery down the street.  The more we pull access to art out of the everyday, the more inexplicable it becomes to the everyday.  Much like the original 1931 vault-like gallery, the court house gallery demanded, simply by the architecture itself, reverence for the exceptionalism of art.

I'm not unhappy to see the Vancouver Art Gallery leave the court house building, but one does worry about the current civic support, all over the country, for Bilbao-effect galleries and museums.  By their very spectacularity they become objects rather than fabric, appropriate one would think perhaps for programs such as justice, or health, or governance.  Historically, art is deemed to be one of these important conditions requiring separation in a significant architecture.

Might we have something more wabi-sabi: a necessary anchor for history, retrospectives, biennials and curation, plus the infiltration of the rest of the city, starting from that block, with a rootless, opportunistic, transient architecture that reflects the kind of programming most major galleries are engaged with today.  There must be some place for a gallery architecture to constantly renew and reconstruct itself if it is to be an embedded part of the processes of cultural renewal and reconstruction, and not just the place where, after the fact, such changes are displayed.

Tuesday
Apr162013

charging stations

Neville Mars, solar forest parking and charging station, 2009

Neville Mars, solar forest, shade, energy for charging stations.  If the grumpy comments on design boom are anything to go by, an expensive solution: the plates have to rotate to follow the sun, lifespan of a panel is only 6 years, so much maintenance of the forest, etc etc.  

Solar Forest reminds me very much of SOM's giant 1972 oasis at King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, a tented open-air terminal to accommodate the millions of Haj pilgrims that go through the airport each year on their way to Mecca.  120 acres/2.8 million square feet: it is large.  From the AIA site:'The tent structure that makes up the terminal’s roof strongly resembles vernacular Bedouin shelters and Hajj pilgrim tents that spring up around Mecca during the Hajj season.'

Well, that is a hook I suppose, much as Neville Mars' collection of charging stations strongly resembles vernacular forests.  Might we have a planted forest, pumping out oxygen and acting as a CO2 sink, with short poles with sockets on them, something like block heater plugs in parking lots in the great white north?   Something like this:


Typical winter block-heater use parking lot anywhere on the prairies.Oh, but I forgot, we need the solar panels to charge the cars with.  What about the pavement? Clearly not with snow on it, a problem with weather no matter where these panels are.

Monday
Apr152013

fuel stops

Paris curb gas pumpsA nice minimalism here, makes one wonder what all the fuss is about in our cities: the acres of asphalt, the huge signs, the added gimmickry. Gas pumps have always been tidy curb-side affairs in Paris, but perhaps we, here, will learn retrospectively from charging stations, which are the new equivalent.

San Francisco charging points

Thursday
Apr112013

Ed Ruscha: Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1962

Ed Ruscha. Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1962

The 26 stations were on the highway from Los Angeles, where Ruscha lived, to Oklahoma City where his mother lived.  In an interview for Artforum, Feb 1965, he said "I have eliminated all text from my books – I want absolutely neutral material. My pictures are not that interesting, nor the subject matter. They are simply a collection of 'facts'…"   By 1982 he positioned the gas stations metaphorically, akin to the Stations of the Cross, but he was older then.  

Ruscha took 60 stations, edited them down to the 26 most un-eloquent photographs, and published them without any text.  Dave Hickey has written about the kind of numbness that happens when one drives, repetitively, long distances; he mentions John Baldessari's 1963 documentation of the back of every pickup truck he passed between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  In 1985 I took a photograph out of the side window every 50 miles between Duncan, BC and Halifax, NS, a trip I had done several times.  Fifty was a round number, there were 72 slides, 2 rolls of film exactly – the curious thing was that the 50-mile slices missed every city, so it was a long trail of rocks, trees, horizons, mountains, trees, highway guard rails, trees and one very small town in New Brunswick.  The only narrative was the process, something that was very exciting.  All the deconstruction of motive and meaning came later.

Ruscha photographed the trail of gas stations for all sorts of painterly reasons: serials, ready-mades, a rejection of aesthetics, photography as surface linked to the surface conditions of pop art, the iconography of the everyday.  Plus, there was Kerouac and Cassidy's spooling out of On The Road, and there were cars, cars, cars.  John Chamberlain's crushed car sculpture, Billy Al Bengston's car-enamelled panels: the car was a material with which one could make art.  

Tuesday
Apr092013

Texaco: an early case of corporate identity

Texaco Service Station, 1939

Walter Dorwin Teague, the designer of the Kodak brand from logo to cameras to stores, was commissioned in 1937 by Texaco to design a corporate identity that included a standard gas station.  Texaco sold gas in each state of the USA, unique evidently, as well as throughout Canada.  Teague had gone to Europe in the late 1920s, seen Corbusian modernism and brought it home.  The Texaco Service Station was a clean, white vitreous enamel-panelled box with a canopy.  Three green bands tie the canopy to the box, red stars are affixed above this dado, the T of Texaco sits in the red star of Texas.  The stations are like three-dimensional line drawings, delicate, much like the vitreous enamel panels – the material of pots and pans, strangely durable and at the same time fragile if in the wrong place.
 
Because of the clarity of these stations, they sit in their landscapes much as Arne Jacobsen's station did: a precise bit of industrial sculpture.  20,000 were built between 1940 and 1960.  They linger, these white stations, although the company is gone from public view, as have gas stations: they are now, generally, self-serve pumps attached to convenience stores, part of an invisible, banal service landscape.  The Teague Texaco station in this neighbourhood, closed as a gas station in the late 70s, sold computer parts for a long time and now is used, by someone, for storage.  The wide plate glass windows are full of cardboard boxes.  

This image isn't the one in my neighbourhood, it is somewhere in New York I think, but no matter, they were all the same. 

Walter Dorwin Teague Texaco Service Station in a state of advanced decline.

Monday
Apr082013

Arne Jacobsen: Skovshoved gas station

Arne Jacobsen. Texaco Station, Copenhagen, 1936

Drawn in 1936, actually built, and now preserved as a museum. There is a quality to this drawing much like early Disney films, or George Herriman's drawings: so much space, such sunny landscapes, just three years before the start of WWII. 

Just had a look at Texaco's timeline.  It started as a company that shipped heavy crude and was already in Antwerp by 1905, shortly after it was founded in Beaumont Texas in 1901.  In 1936 it was supplying oil to the Nationalists in Spain and continued to do that throughout the civil war. It also joined forces with Standard Oil/Chevron in 1936 – using its Bahrain oil fields and refineries, to market throughout Asia and Africa.  In 1940 Texaco's chief was forced to resign over his connections with the Nazi Party after his support of the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War became public. 

In the 1950s and 60s, Texaco put on a public charm offensive with the jingle that told us 'you can trust your car to the man who wears the star'. For many of us, the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoons were just part of the landscape of each week.  That's the thing with oil, it flows everywhere.

 

Thursday
Apr042013

United Oil gas stations

Kanner Architects, United Oil Gas Station, Los Angeles, 2009

United Oil, Carson, California.  Jeff Appel, CEO, loves architecture and has been commissioning architects to do spectacular gas stations, including this one, by Kanner Architects.  United Oil stations are clean, beautiful and the gas is on average cheaper than other stations.  This one, on Slauson and La Brea cost $7 million; usually a gas station, car wash and convenience store is about $2+ million.  So there is a strategy: load money into the front end, make a statement, build the brand and sell the product cheaply, breaking even on volume. For us, we get to look at something quite neat, we get to be in a bit of clever architecture while doing a very mundane and repetitive task.

Gas stations in general, not a good thing, of course they should all be re-charging stations.

As architecture, not sure if this is an ode to the glamorous 1950s when it was all starships, space and the future, when gas was 10 cents a gallon and the environment was where you went to go camping.  If so, not sure this needs valorisation.  Or it might be a paean to the optimism of early modernism that by the 1950s had made it down, so democratically, to diners, gas stations and motels.  

To build this way in 2009 is to signal something about the past, in the guise of the future. As a comparison, I live in a city that in its ordinary byways and highways is so exceptionally dreary that it is painful. Architecture here, outside a few projects found in magazines, has become simply a service industry: conventional, not cheap but cheap-looking, utilitarian, no delight. It isn't signalling anything than one can actually critique except at the most functional level, such as should we have gas stations at all.  Perhaps LA, the city of dreams and whizzy gas stations, is all botox and blonde hair, but it acts on its dreams.  It actually seems to have dreams. 

I'm not sure that the old binary that good architecture only comes from totalitarian systems, that social democracies never produce much that is 'exciting' – a discussion that horrifyingly is still alive, especially when discussing places such as Dubai, has any validity at all. Architecture can't just be the tag for exceptional buildings and large projects.  The everyday environment – going to the store, the library, the gas station, the bank –if there is no loveliness here, then architecture has failed, no matter what the political or economic system in place. 

Monday
Apr012013

Richard Wentworth: making do

Richard Wentworth Caledonian Road, London, 2007. Lisson Gallery, 2013

Richard Wentworth has been photographing tiny interventions in the inadequate way our urban world works since 1973.  A boot holds a door open, a small dog is tied to a heavy shopping bag: one cannot leave without the other – that sort of thing.  This photo, of intercessionary bricks on a set of stone steps is, of course, completely baffling.  Can it be that it simply pleased someone to do it? It renders the capacious steps dangerous; it makes the bricks beautiful in their variety.  

Kemnay Quarry, 1939Above is a 1939 photograph of Kemnay Quarry on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms.  We are looking at, according to the description, grey muscovite-biotite granite, a 122m deep pit and a pile of tailings at the top.  In the foreground curbstones and setts are tidily stacked. 

We are very used to monolithic surfaces that pour onto our streets and sidewalks, are flattened down and then harden into great impervious sheets of grey, where every street becomes a culvert.  The re-examination of permeable paving for all sorts of reasons, water management and urban forestry being the main ones, could lead us back to the hand units: bricks, setts, cobbles and paving slabs, except that such systems are labour-intensive.  Modern processes increasingly point in the direction of automation: the macro-scale of production and results, something almost guaranteed to increase the number of desperate little solutions to uncongenial habitats.

Monday
Mar252013

living by quarries

Alan Bennet wrote about visiting Temple Newsam, a 17th century house just outside Leeds, when he was nine or ten, in the London Review of Books, 8 November 2012 :
Visiting Temple Newsam was always a treat, as it still is more than half a century later.  Back in 1947, though, with the country in the throes of the postwar economic crisis, the push was on for more coal and the whole of the park in front of the house was given over to open-cast mining, the excavations for which came right up to the terrace.  From the state rooms you looked out on a landscape as bleak and blasted as a view of the Somme, an idyll, as it seemed to me then, irretrievably lost, and young though I was I knew this.

This is the Ordnance Survey Map for 1945-1947 that shows Temple Newsam: clearly the house sat on the top of a hill, surrounded by woods and collieries and remarkably close to the sewage works, canals, and railway line of Skelton.   

BT Ordnance Survey Map, 1945-1947, sheet 44Bennett continues:  But of course I was wrong.  It wasn't irretrievable and to look at the grounds today one would have no idea that such a violation had ever occurred.  And it had occurred, too, with even greater devastation at other country houses south of Leeds: Nostell Priory was similarly beleaguered, as was Wentworth Woodhouse, both …, smack in the middle of coal-bearing country…

Yorkshire has lost more large houses than any other English county — 253 and mostly in the 1950s, usually by fire or insufficient wealth.  This is yet another back story, or rather future story, behind Downton and all the lovely dresses.

Thursday
Dec132012

oyster shell middens

John Heron, Hidden Midden 1. 2011

We are talking about numbers of oysters at an almost inconceivable scale: there is an Oyster Shell Beach in Hong Kong, Oyster Bays in both New York and New South Wales, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Oyster Point in San Francisco, Oyster Cove on Vancouver Island, Oyster Bed in Prince Edward Island.  There is an Oyster, Virginia.

Oyster middens can be miles wide: two kinds, the discards of oyster-eating peoples, and natural banks of oyster shells on beaches.  According to Kaitlin Pomerantz, the erosion of empty shells releases calcium into the water needed to build new oyster shells, plus providing a foothold and a habitat for new oysters.   

However, tons of oyster shells were used as road beds in the early twentieth century; more tons were ground up for chicken feed and agricultural use.  It is a similar story to the mountains of buffalo bones photographed beside the CPR line in Saskatchewan in the 1890s: destination, fertiliser.   Oysters are under threat from over harvesting and the removal of habitat. So, nothing new then.  

Pomerantz has built a monument, Hidden Midden, for Chesapeake Bay (between Maryland and Virginia), not quite as tidy as the drawing above, but better: it is topped by a slab of asphalt road that registers the destruction of oyster middens, and offers a footfall for occupation, not for oysters unfortunately given that it is in a sculpture garden, but for other kinds of life.

Kaitlin Pomerantz, Hidden Midden, Annmarie Sculpture Garden, Solomons, Maryland. November 2011.

Tuesday
Nov272012

glass cullet

Glass cullet is what all your recycled bottles become: pieces of glass smaller than 19mm but larger than .075 mm, $300-500/ton depending on colour, composition (borosylicate lab glass for example) and destination – glass production, landscape material or aggregate.

Concretes made with green glass cullet aggregate have been found to be stronger, attributed to better bonding with the cement – this reported in the Magazine of Concrete Research in 2004.  And while it seems that glass cullet concrete is used for lots of rough applications such as roadbeds and fill, as an aggregate in concrete it increases the strength and insulation value, glass having better thermal qualities that other aggregates.  

So, what does it look like?  This is a decorative application, if used as normal aggregate it would be invisible.

 pretty, but is it only used for counter tops? Ah. yes. washed gravel aggregate is $4/ton.

However, milled glass has been used as a partial replacement for cement, where the glass undergoes 'pozzolanic reactions with cement hydrates, forming secondary calcium silicate hydrate', producing 'significant gains in strength and durability of recycled aggregate concrete'. [This from a really interesting paper by Roz-Ud-Din Nassar and Parviz Soroushian here]   Milled glass in the cement allows a greater range of waste material to be used as aggregate.  

It is very interesting that such an ancient building material, formed through a series of chemical reactions, is so complex, certainly not to be taken for granted that we know all there is to know about it after many centuries of use.

Glass in all its lovely varieties – Gabbert Cullet in Williamstown West Virginia:


Gabbert Cullet, Williamstown, West Virginia. The backlot

Wednesday
Nov212012

lime kilns

Near Victoria, BC: the lime kiln of the Atkins Brothers Silica Lime Brick Company, near the boundary of View Royal and Langford. Enough lime was being produced to justify a spur line from the E.&N. Railway, shipping a thousand barrels up island in 1899. Lime operations continued until the 1930s when the land was purchased by the Department of National Defence. Robert Duffus: 1977 photograph

There is a Lime Kiln Lake near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta, the Lime Kiln Trail in Ottawa, the Hart Road Lime Kiln Conservation Plan in View Royal near Victoria BC, Lime Kiln Bay in New Brunswick – when you start to look, they were everywhere.  

Funny how things channel sometimes.  Last night was reading Agatha Christie's The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim, written sometime before 1924, where Mr Davenheim walks to the post office and vanishes.  However, there is a lake, a path, a gate, and beyond it, a lime kiln.  Ah.  This is how a body can be disposed of – throw it into quicklime which will dissolve everything except Mr Davenheim's distinctive gold and diamond ring – well, it didn't happen that way, but it does indicate that lime kilns were local, ubiquitous and in use.  Every town, every estate, every builder probably had one, for lime is essential for all cement work: mortar, parging, grout, stucco, pathways, foundations, floors.  It was also used as fertilizer and so essential to agriculture.

I'm closing in on the process: you burn limestone, or calcium carbonate (CaCO3), which gives you quicklime, or calcium oxide (CaO).  You mix quicklime with water to get slaked lime, or calcium hydroxide (Ca[OH]2).  This is used in cementitious building products, including whitewash, which is slaked lime and chalk.  Over time as slaked lime dries and hardens, it loses water and absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reverting back to limestone.   What a process.  

Saturday
Oct202012

Kevin Harman: Skip 13

Kevin Harman's gallery, Ingleby Gallery, has emailed a link to the latest skip reorganisation, Skip 13, part of Frieze Art Fair 2012.  There is a nice vimeo; click on the photo to be transported there. 

Kevin Harman. Skip 13, York Way, London. October 6-7, 2012

These stacks of material remind me so much of the piles of construction debris found in Sudbury, which I wrote about last year in Destination Earth.  Is there some deep epistemological urge we have to separate, sort and re-present? Or does construction debris itself lead to this.  Unwillingly deconstructed, it longs to be a thing again. 

Monday
Oct152012

Kevin Harman: Skip 7

Kevin Harman. Skip 7. 2007 Mixed Medium Friday, take all contents out of skip, break down and place all debris back in skip for opening on Sunday night, leave.

Kevin Harman, Scottish sculptor, has a series of reorganised skips full mostly of construction debris. This is Skip 7, before and finished.

At once performance, community project, statement about density, found materials, deconstruction of the already deconstructed, reconstruction leading to a complete absence of inner space.  Rachel Whitread filled a small house full of plaster, then removed the mould – the structure of the house itself, leaving solid blocks of 'space'.  Kevin Harman takes the materials of a house and squeezes all the space out, leaving a small block of airless density.

The process is public and good natured. Here is an 11 minute 2009 film from Harman's website:  www.kevinharman.co.uk/skip11video.html

Below, Skip 11, a strangely romantic reorganisation.

Kevin Harman. Skip 11, 2011 Mixed Medium Friday, take all contents out of skip, break down and place all debris back in skip for opening on Sunday night, leave.

Wednesday
Jul042012

camping

A clifftop campsite in Crimdon Park, County Durham, England. 1946

Okay, it is 1946, everyone camping here, the men at least, just spent a lot of time in tents in north Africa, in Burma, on the plains of Lincolnshire, but this is the summer holidays, in England.  The war is over.  Wouldn't one think that anarchy would be a welcome release and tents were higgledy-piggledy?  Clearly not. 

The English once were a sociable people, not for them the extreme privacy of camping in a BC government or National Park campsite, all winding roads through the woods and deep seclusion on one's little clearing with picnic bench and firepit.  Sometimes it would be nice – and feel safe – to be just one more tent in an array such as this one.

and gosh, look at all the army bell tents.  One wonders if the release of army surplus after the war spurred on the development of mass camping and campsites.  As a kid, our tent was a huge Hudson's Bay Company canvas tent with an extension: not army surplus, but so capacious. It smelled like summer.

Tuesday
Feb212012

not a dogfight, a seek and destroy mission

The above image was on Vintage Everyday last week: they post images without much explanation, but a lot of their material seems to come from Life magazine files, and this image was in a set with what appeared to be US WWII pictures.  So, what are these planes?  A Messerschmidt and a Spitfire? not quite, according to various aircraft spotting posters.  So, while I think the rounded wings could be a Spitfire, the other stick-like plane resembles nothing I can find in either German, British, American or Japanese aircraft recognition manuals. It has a strange tail.

However, on the way to discovering that I know nothing about aircraft, I found a wonderful site: Collect Air, Friend or Foe? Museum, vast and detailed with everything one would want to know about aircraft recognition models, manuals, diagrams, board games, playing cards, cartoons, kits.  For example, below, pocket recognition models at 1:432.  How did they pick that scale?

1:432 plastic "pocket" recognition models, manufactured by Cruver, 1943 to around 1993.Nonetheless I still haven't been able to find the plane that looks like it is constructed out of steel strap.  But, life is short; must move on.

 

22.02.2012: Tim Atherton has identified the stick insect as a V1 flying bomb.  See his comment to this post.

Saturday
Feb182012

the Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC.

The Empress Hotel was built between 1904 and 1906, shortly after the death of the real Empress in 1901.  It was a CPR hotel, Francis Rattenbury the English architect, also the architect of the Parliament Buildings and the Crystal Pool.  Unless one is from Victoria, Rattenbury is better known perhaps for being killed on his wife's instructions, the story told in Terence Rattigan's 1975 play, Cause Célèbre.

The Empress is pinnacled and towered, looming and gothic, now covered in ivy.  One doesn't make architectural criticisms of it because it is such an institution: the archetypal outpost of Empire, like Raffles in Singapore but not so racy: the Empress is famous for tea.  Of course.  This is Victoria.

Next to it was the Crystal Pool where all little Victorian schoolchildren learned to swim up until the 1960s – either there or at Elk Lake in the summer in the Daily Colonist swim classes.  Yes, that was the name of the newspaper.  The Crystal Pool, built in 1925, was a large glass house: no curved pieces, all flat plate glass on cast iron structure, at the time known as the largest salt-water pool in the Empire.  It was a wonderful space for a child – light streamed into the pool, glittered on the water, the palm trees dripped, exotic as any Hockney pool in California.  

This was my Canadian childhood.


Crystal Garden pool. F M Rattenbury and Percy James, architects. Victoria BC 1925

Wednesday
Feb152012

mail

Royal Mail. series of 50, produced by the Royal Mail in conjuction with Wills Tobacco, circa 1930

When mail was in an envelope, with stamps, delivered by hand no matter where you were or what you were doing, mail delivery scheduled the day, the week, the month; time lags were sometimes great, pictures were rare and precious.  Yet, yet, society functioned, ideas were exchanged, romances grew, news was heard. 

Why must everything be instant now? Maybe that isn't the question.  Perhaps it is something about patience, and lack of it.  It isn't about technology, but something that drives technology.  That progress has always equalled speed: speed of change and literally going faster.  The underpinning of sustainability discussions is the interrogation of 'progress' and whether or not it can still be seen as a postitive, or is it just a pernicious aspect of modernism.  it is an old debate, as old as the enlightenment.  What is surprising is that it can still be made.  

Tuesday
Feb142012

spaniels

Cigarette cards: little pieces of cardboard meant to stiffen packages of cigarettes when they came as 5s and 10s in paper wrappers.  They were done in series: this from one on sporting dogs, where they all look tremendously noble, demonstrating perfect form.  As we all know, dogs sometimes look noble and often look muddy, tatty, wet and full of burrs.  

Bewick, in his Birds of Britain, 1797-1804, captured the sometimes manic look spaniels can have when faced with a bird within reach.  Genes kick in. 

Landseer, the well-known Victorian artist who painted lachrymose set pieces of man's best friend looking soulful and human, did this lovely sketch of a dashing spaniel.  This one is so true. 

E H Landseer, Running Spaniel. drawing. n.d.